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‘Please no, not dairy, anything but dairy. I just can’t give up cheese’ is the most rational response when someone throws out the old favourite ‘Y’know, dairy is really bad for your acne’.
But is there anything to back up the claims of dairy causing acne, or is it just a myth? Does dairy cause acne? Is dairy bad for your skin?
Let’s take a look and see if it really could help your skin if you put away the milk and laid off the chocolate and cheese.
It seems that in answer to the question, can dairy cause acne, it’s all down to a hormone called IGF-1.
IGF-1. What is it? What Does it Do?
Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 doesn’t sound too exciting, we know. But it is important to understand what it is, especially if you suffer from acne prone skin. IGF-1 is one of the reasons dairy causes acne.
Essentially, it’s a growth hormone, and we all have it. But if you have hormonal or inflammatory acne, you probably have a bit more of it than the average person. High levels of IGF-1 can knock your hormones off balance and can trigger the overproduction of oil – creating an environment in which acne thrives.
Dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurts etc – cause a spike in IGF-1 levels when we consume them. For people who don’t suffer with acne, this isn’t too much of a problem. But if your IGF-1 levels are already high, and your skin is prone to acne, a spike in its production is likely to result in an outbreak.
And it’s a vicious cycle. The initial spike in IGF-1 brought about by dairy consumption causes our bodies to create more insulin, which triggers the production of even more IGF-1.
Does milk cause acne? Indirectly, it can do, yes. Consuming dairy can cause your body to produce more sebum, whilst making it harder for you to shed dead skin cells. This means pores can become blocked and clog easily, leading to whiteheads, blackheads and painful cystic acne (those nasty, sore, under the skin spots).
Do I Need to Give Up Dairy Entirely?
Dr Anna Brilli, who works closely with Sönd, is a specialist in alkaline nutrition. She suggests living an 80:20 alkaline lifestyle whereby we eat alkaline foods 80% of the time. Like meat and poultry, milk and dairy products are acid forming foods, so, the opposite to alkaline foods.
Eating a diet high in acid-forming foods leads to inflammation which in turn leads to a higher risk of chronic inflammatory disease such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Not only that, acid-forming foods such as dairy, can lead to a worsening of skin conditions such as acne. Therefore Dr Brilli suggests eliminating cow’s milk and dairy products made with cow’s milk, and opting for goat or sheep milk, and only then, keeping it to a 20% minimum.
Dr Brilli says, “Humans are the only species to drink the breast milk of another species. For thousands of years, it’s been standard practice to feed children milk and dairy products in order to make them grow and develop normally”.
“Dairy is indeed filled with beneficial nutrients that allow humans (and baby cows) to grow, but at the same time, there’s a famous saying, “If you drink milk, you’ve likely got a whole host of health problems””. So why is dairy milk bad for us?
Dr Brilli says, “Milk and dairy products contain animal protein and when we break down these proteins, they produce acid. Calcium is an excellent acid neutraliser, and so the body draws calcium from the bones in order to help neutralise the acid caused by drinking milk or eating cheese”.
In other words, even though we’ve been told for years that milk and dairy products provide calcium (which they do), what milk and dairy actually do is steal calcium from our body stores including from the calcium reserves needed for our bones.
So, does milk and dairy support healthy strong bones as we’ve been led to believe? Not really, no…
Dr Brilli adds, “Milk and dairy products also contain various hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone. Since oestrogen is fat soluble, it’s present in higher concentrations in full fat milk than semi-skimmed and skimmed”.
“Milk and dairy have been linked to an increased risk of developing prostate, ovarian and breast cancers, high cholesterol, dangerous dairy allergies and acne. Casein, the main protein of cow's milk, is the most relevant chemical carcinogen ever identified.”
“Also, if a dairy cow develops mastitis, a painful infection of the udders caused by overmilking, which a lot of them do develop, they’re given antibiotics to treat it. Traces of these antibiotics are then passed onto humans when we consume their milk.”
“Due to the overuse of antibiotics, both prescribed and as a result of consuming them unwittingly, the human race is developing resistance to major antibiotics at an alarming rate, meaning that they’re no longer as effective and we require stronger and stronger types, if they work at all.”
“Dairy is also a source of saturated fat and sodium (salt), neither of which form part of a healthy diet for the skin or otherwise.”
So it looks like there is a definite link between dairy and acne. So giving up dairy could be a great way to see a drastic improvement in your skin. But it’s not as horrifying a switch as you might think. We live in a world where dairy substitutes are readily available.
Your favourite coffee shops will all have various dairy-free alternatives to cow’s milk. Try soy, almond, coconut or oat milk on your cereal.
Swap out butter for an olive oil spread, and if you haven’t tried coconut yoghurt with some granola and fresh fruit then you need to elevate your snack game. There’s even dairy free cheese (We’ll be honest, it’s not the same, but it’s not bad!).
We urge you to try it out for a few weeks and see if you notice a change in your skin. After all, surely it’s worth cutting down on the cheese if it means healthier skin and hopefully a little boost in confidence?
Will I Miss Out on Nutrients if I Give Up Dairy?
It’s entirely safe to give up milk and dairy products, as long as you give consideration to what your body needs as a replacement. So, how to cut our dairy?
Dairy does contain a good level of calcium and this can be replaced by eating plenty of green leafy vegetables such as greens and kale (plus they won’t steal calcium from your bones). If you eat fish, and you’re sticking to an 80:20 alkaline diet, eat fish with edible bones occasionally, such as pilchards and sardines, as these are also rich in calcium.
Dairy is also a good source of protein, so consume plenty of beans, pluses, nuts and seeds to ensure you’re getting enough.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.